Many different challenges and opportunities have kept me busy and away from writing for several months, and let’s face it, there is only so much any of us can write about healthy habits and resiliency in the face of 2020. There has been so much hand-wringing, taking to Twitter and the streets, agitation and protest. It feels like the whole world needs a cup of hot chocolate, a nap and a copy of Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.

So, in this, my last Thrive Global piece for 2020, I will simply share a story that I think exemplifies the year and the two choices we all have been faced with: Grow or Give Up.

I love singing. I sing everywhere and anywhere I can. I am no professional. I just love to make a joyful noise. Singing in choirs has always been one of my favorite hobbies, as it is a communal activity where the whole is always better than the sum of its parts. When I moved back to Alexandria, Virginia this summer one of the things I was most looking forward to was rejoining the choir at Christ Church Episcopal in Alexandria. These people were like family, nurturing me through graduate school and for several years after, several keeping in touch when I moved away in 2016. It was a cozy place. The section leaders and seasoned singers were the tide that lifts all boats. Mr. Jason, our choirmaster, is our steady captain.

While Zoom, et al, has made this world pandemic much more survivable and enjoyable than any previously endured, there is something about the arts and singing in particular that loses something significant in the medium. We are projecting community and a coming together as one, while recording our individual pieces alone. More than alone, family members (or condo neighbors…Sorry!) only hear our voices because the music is piped into an earpiece so that the voices and music can be combined later by the choirmasters – who must now feel like wizards.

I should mention, I sing by ear. I can read music, but tone, pitch and timing are something my brain needs to hear, not see on a page. I also feed off the energy of the group, and know it positively affects my energy and my singing. This has made singing alone into a laptop with my headphones the most challenging singing I have ever done. There have been more tears and swear words than one should have in recording church music. There have been frustrations, a little pouting, and more than one case of walking away from the computer in disgust. But there has also been fortitude, persistence and coming back the next day to try again. I try to remain focused on the end product and big picture – that we are working on something where we can only see one tiny, imperfect slice of something bigger than ourselves, and yet we are here. Engaged. Involved. Still serving.

This is 2020. I get frustrated with people who state that 2020 is “the worst year ever and we should race to end it and move on.” 2020 has been hard. It has been challenging. It has been absolutely devastating and crushing to millions of Americans and people around the world. But “hard” is not a synonym for “worst.” This year has shown us how comfortable humans have become with our gadgets and modern life making everything seemingly easy. This is not the worst year ever in human history by a long shot.

A choice was presented to us all this year – stay engaged and grow; or say it’s too hard and give up. (There is a third choice many took – giving up but taking no responsibility for the choice by crying out “tyranny” – that’s a different article for a different platform.)

While I had days when I did give up, I didn’t stay there, unpack my bags and make myself at home. I learned to rest and then get back up. It’s called “growing pains” for a reason! As Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan in A League Of Their Own famously said “Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.” He also said in that speech, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”

And that’s the clincher – if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it – even in a pandemic. As my mother would wisely say, “just worry about yourself.”

Positive habits are not formed and stacked through some magical fairy dust or wishing it were so, but through the effort of learning new skills which at first are uncomfortable, sometimes even hard work and struggle, and probably a couple tears and swear words. But at the end, you have the sense of accomplishment and pride in yourself that you were not bested by things around you, but rose to the challenge and prevailed the best you could.

Ok, so maybe there is room for one final positive habit stack of 2020: Learn something new; Expend effort not excuses; Push yourself outside your comfort zone; Retain your sense of humor; Grow beyond your wildest dreams; Take a nap and have a hot chocolate…with whipped cream and sprinkles.